Mindless Eating

When there are no bad foods, stupid choices, or failures and when compassionate curiosity replaces self-criticism and judgment, then food becomes useful and pleasurable rather than something to be ashamed of or gotten rid of - Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

We often eat for reasons other than true stomach hunger. We eat because we are sad, happy, tired, stressed, bored, angry …..In fact, many people are not even aware of these feelings when they are munching away. This is called “Mindless Eating.”

Mindless eating can be manifested in different ways. People can either obsess over or ignore internal feedback from their body and their mind rather than responding with thought and intention to their hunger and any concerns about their health. Mindless eating is not the cause of any eating issues but rather a sign that other things need to be addressed (e.g. sense of self worth, anxiety, loneliness, difficulty in voicing feelings). Thus, you may need to learn how to feed your soul and not your body.

Fill in the blanks!

The tree that grows from an acorn is called an....

The vapor that rises from fire is called....

The sound that a frog makes is called a....

The white of an egg is called the....

Ask yourself - Was I mindful about the answer?

When you are mindful in your eating, you are aware of why you are choosing to eat and why you are making the choices that you are. You eat slowly and savor the tastes and textures of foods. You listen to your body’s cues as to when you are full and satisfied. You achieve a healthy weight and have a healthy relationship with food.

Throughout any given day, we are often on “auto-pilot.” For example, when getting dressed and looking for a sweater, your hand will automatically reach for the sweater drawer or shelf. If you rearrange your clothes and put them elsewhere, you will still reach for the same drawer where your sweaters used to be until the new pattern is learned. Eating is no different. If you eat while watching a movie, your hand automatically goes from your mouth to the popcorn bowl and back again without thinking. Before you know it, you have eaten the entire bowl without any true awareness.

So what to do? Become aware of which situations tend to act as cues that lead you to eat without awareness and intention. Identify where you are most likely to eat mindlessly. Become aware of what feelings lead to your mindless eating. Then, develop a plan.

For example, the former you had a bad day at work and is feeling discouraged. You feel incompetent and inadequate. You go home and eat a large bag of chips and a quart of ice-cream in front of the T.V. and then your harsh and critical inner voice says “I can’t believe I ate all of that.” “I am stupid and fat and have no self-control.” The mindful you will make a different choice. Instead of binging, you will go for a walk and process the day or call a friend and share your feelings. You choose to acknowledge your feelings, listen to what your inner critic is saying and develop an understanding of how that thinking influences your eating. You let go of the negative self-talk and give yourself some positive affirmations.

Mindful eating is not an easy skill to develop; however, it can be done if you so desire. It will take time and patience, but the effort will be worth it. If necessary, seek professional help. I am confident that you can do it!

Kathleen Baskett, MD is the Medical Director of Weight Management at St. Vincent Healthcare. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the author of “Moving Forward: The Weigh to a Healthier Weight”.